Think Again, Get Your Act Together or Simply Pull Out of Somalia Now

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What the hell are we doing in Somalia?

It has been proven yet again. Kenya’s Operation Linda Nchi  (Operation Protect the Nation) is untenable. A resoundingly humiliating fool’s errand if ever there was one. The time to withdraw the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) from Somalia is long overdue. While President Uhuru Kenyatta inherited this military bumble of an operation in neighboring Somalia, under his leadership, the Kenya Army has been seriously humiliated with troops slain like sitting ducks. This operation has utterly failed to meet its objectives if there were any at all. Rather than protecting the country, vicious attacks inside the country have increased manifold. Kenya has faced over a hundred and thirty-five attacks since its ill-informed, ill-prepared and ill-executed and now, seemingly, insuperable military intervention in Somalia. One of the worst kind of bloodletting to have been experienced in Kenyan history. Yet, the most brutal and heinous of all was saved for our protectors inside Somalia. How can the Kenyan government protect its citizens when its army cannot fight? How can a country stand a chance to win in the field of battle when its troops are butchered and slaughtered mercilessly like defenseless lambs?

In the face of their encounter with the war-hardened and ideologically-drilled and highly motivated enemy, our KDF boys look like ill-trained and confused recruits who would rather be anywhere else than their besieged military camps in Somalia. A clip of Al Shaabab propaganda footage makes one wonder who the ragtag army in this latest ignominious specter was; us or them? That the Kenya Army has been caught flat-footed for the second time running speaks volumes about our commanders’ ranking ineptitude and misplaced complacency. Both the military and political leadership has failed terribly and stinks to the high heavens. Yet, I haven’t seen any resignations, or well-weighed statements of accountability, not necessarily culpability here as that would to expect too much of them. Rather, all that one gets is empty bravado and callous appeals to near-inexistent Kenyan nationalism;the Kenya Air Force and the Kenya Army, are undertaking an intensive pacification … our soldiers repulsed the terrorists who had tried to access … camp using a suicide vehicle. But wait! Isn’t this the same old story that we were told when the Al Shabaab first struck a KDF camp in El-Adde on 15th January 2016? Why should Kenyans believe its government and senior military officers after a second humiliation similar, down to the very last detail and date, to the first major El-Adde attack, this time in the Kenya military camp in Kulbiyow (Lower Jubba) on 27th January 2017? And, shamelessly, a spokesman for the Kenya Army came out to attribute this grievous humiliation and seeming defeat to the enemy’s elaborate propaganda machine. This is ranking bunk.

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I am no pacifist. Brutal, barbarous and senseless killing especially the kind directed towards innocent civilians minding their own business like in the Westgate Mall or Garissa University College attacks ought to be met with the full measure of objective, swift and efficacious force with measurable results within a tightly fixed and strict frame of time. What the Kenyan government needs to do is to rethink, and think hard, its ill-thought commitment to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Arguably, this military component, KDF, is the most blundering one compared to the others, notwithstanding its swift and quite successful initial military maneuvers at the beginning of the operation. It’s one thing to win battles and wars and quite another thing, altogether, to occupy a foreign country indefinitely. Did we even have an exit strategy? Let’s face it, by now, considering how bogged down KDF is, we are AMISOM’s weakest link. It’s perhaps best to leave the leadership of this mission to Ethiopia and Uganda in that order, countries that are war-tested and experienced. Well, at least President Yoweri Museveni directed a strategic and successful war that took over government and put Uganda on a stable political path. No one needs reminding of Ethiopia’s glorious military exploits, going toe to toe in the field of battle with a formidable European enemy and licking it soundly, at least once. Kenya should stick to its competitive and comparative advantage when it comes to matters of conflict and war; excepting President Jomo Kenyatta’s decisive and brutal repression of Kenyan Somalis in the so-called Shifta War of the early and mid-1960s, we are a country of talented negotiator-diplomats who have played a pivotal role in securing peace deals in the region. We are peace-broking hustlers in the region. Indeed, for a while, Nairobi played a crucial role in securing a peace deal between Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M); and was, for a long time, home to a host of Somali warlords; and hosted a peace process that led to the forming of a Somali government back in 2004. Heck! If they insist on fighting, let South Sudanese pick up their own fair share of regional responsibility of conflict resolution and peace-keeping within the framework of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the African Union (AU) instead of needlessly eating up the lives of their newly independent people in yet another unnecessary and senseless downward spiral of (civil) war.

Let’s admit it, Kenya, war isn’t out thing. It’s far much better to focus on building the nation and interethnic unity first before marching headlong into a bogged down, stagnant, redundant and unimaginative regional military intervention wracked by scandal and corruption, Kenyan-style. What are we doing in Somalia; exporting corruption to an already war-torn country? That, certainly, can’t end well. The first step that we must take towards securing Kenya must start at home. Curbing and managing the dangers posed by sharp ethnic divisions and runaway corruption is crucial to shutting down opportunities for terrorists who may as often be insiders as outsiders. Kenya requires a national leadership that acknowledges that the winning strategy with regard to Somalia isn’t a military one but one that must start with a constructive policy of decisive and deliberate inclusion and engagement with Kenyan citizens of Somali descent wherever they may be in the country. Secondly, unlike elsewhere, we can’t afford to mimic harsh policies or restrictions and close the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps with numerous Somalis. We shouldn’t even countenance the bellicose idea, as floated by some politicians, of shutting these camps and building a wall along our border with Somalia. We probably can’t even afford to do the latter, yet here we are contemplating and piping about this ugly and impossible eyesore. Thirdly, AMISOM must undertake an unflattering review and transparent stock-taking of its mission in Somalia, and give an account of all of its objectives since this intervention; what is happening now; what remains to be done to have a healthy, politically stable and economically thriving Somalia; what the expected reasonable duration within which it must happen is; a viable exit strategy; and a detailed postwar reconstruction plan establishing a prosperous Somalia for Somalians who will then proceed to take their rightful place in the community of nations.

AMISOM, and especially its Kenyan component, needs a quick rethink and refocus. KDF, especially its commanders who will be installed after the ones responsible for our repeated humiliation are sent packing, must get their act together or simply pull out of Somali now, exit strategy or none.

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Nicholas Githuku

Assistant Professor, African History at York College, CUNY
Nicholas Githuku is a Ph.D. holder in African Studies. His research interests include: War & Peace Studies in general; Conflict and Security and mediation in general and trends in the Great Lakes the Horn Regions of Africa; Memorialization of War; Development studies (Sub-Saharan Africa): Postcolonial/Contemporary Kenyan Politics; European History (1648 to 1900); First and Second World Wars; and Post-1989 Eastern Europe (Balkans) History.

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